Christmas came a little early for the Hattiesburg Public School District, where $102,000 in grant funding from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History will allow for several renovations at F.B. Woodley Elementary School.
During a news conference Friday at the school, Mayor Toby Barker said the measure was approved that morning by the department’s board of trustees as part of the 2019 allocation of historic preservation grants.
“It’s a really big deal for this school, which is one of our most historic in the city of Hattiesburg,” Barker said. “This is the first time we’ve funded a historic preservation grant program in about three years.
“With all the things that we fund – particularly in the bond bill, whether it’s IHL or state agencies or community colleges – historic preservation grants can get bumped down to the bottom. But (our Legislature) took the time to fund that this year, and that made it possible for there to be a new round of funding that we were able to take advantage of and apply for this.”
The funds will allow the school district to complete some waterproofing projects at Woodley, as well as paint the interior of the school and finish a lighting project that will place LEDs throughout the school. The grant also will be used for cafeteria renovations and mechanical upgrades.
“I’m very thankful to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History for providing these funds, and our legislative delegations for the allocations,” said Robert Williams, superintendent of the Hattiesburg Public School District. “This is a great school – a high-performing school in a great neighborhood – and it’s also part of a great city.”
Missy McGee, who represents District 102 in the Mississippi House of Representatives, said she knew the city had a great application and project before she traveled Friday morning to Jackson to sit in on the department’s board meeting.
“But when I got there and they said that there had been 48 applications for this preservation grant totaling almost $13 million in requests, and that they had awarded only 17 of the 48 projects for a total of $3 million, my heart started beating just a little bit faster,” she said. “They were all very worthwhile projects.
“I’m very pleased that in 2019, we were able to fund another round of these heritage preservation grants, and I’m very hopeful that in the 2020 legislative session we will be able to find the funding to open another round of grants. I know that we have many more worthwhile projects in the Hattiesburg area, and throughout the state.”
Barker said approval of the funding was especially important, considering how difficult it is to secure historic preservation grants.
“We have 38 landmarks, and you can’t apply for one of these grants unless you are a Mississippi landmark,” he said. “That means you would have had to put in the effort to get landmark status for your building before you can apply for some of these grants.
“So I want to thank all those people in Hattiesburg who came before us who did the hard work in getting these buildings like Woodley certified as a Mississippi landmark.”
House District 103 Representative Percy Watson said the funding is a result of the city and state delegation working together in the legislative process.
“I think it’s also very important for the local delegation and members of the Legislature to work with the school system,” he said. “We’re experiencing that at this time, and I think it’s important that we continue that relationship, because this building is important to this community.
“This building, at the same time, is very important to the school district.”